Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 14, 2013

Inside the International Socialists Organization

Filed under: Counterpunch,revolutionary organizing,state capitalism — louisproyect @ 12:58 pm
Counterpunch Weekend Edition June 14-16, 2013
Putting the Sect Into Sectarian

Inside the International Socialist Organization

by LOUIS PROYECT

Whenever I reflect back on my decade-long experience in the American Socialist Workers Party during the Vietnam War epoch, I feel like I am auditioning for the lead role in Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape”:

Just been listening to that stupid bastard I took myself for thirty years ago, hard to believe I was ever as bad as that. Thank God that’s all done with anyway. (Pause.) The eyes she had! (Broods, realizes he is recording silence, switches off, broods. Finally.) Everything there, everything, all the– (Realizing this is not being recorded, switches on.) Everything there, everything on this old muckball, all the light and dark and famine and feasting of . . . (hesitates) . . . the ages! (In a shout.) Yes! (Pause.) Let that go! Jesus! Take his mind off his homework! Jesus (Pause. Weary.) Ah well, maybe he was right.

I suppose that the one benefit derived from my misspent youth was learning enough about “Marxist-Leninism” first-hand so that I could be credible to young people today about avoiding my mistakes. Fortunately, the weight of history makes it much more difficult for groups like the SWP to attract new members since the “Russian” paradigm that they are based on is extinct.

One of the more dynamic and attractive groups on the far left is the International Socialist Organization (ISO). The ISO’ers made a splash recently by going on a campaign to expose the editors of CounterPunch as a bunch of sexist frat boys in the “Animal House” vein with Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank reprising Bluto and Otter. My intention here is not to reopen the brouhaha but to take a look at the ISO from the perspective of Jeff St. Clair’s recent article on the Silent Death of the American Left. I will argue that there is a relationship between a left so badly in need of resurrection now and transcending the type of sectarian divisions associated with the “Russian” paradigm.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/14/inside-the-international-socialist-organization/

 

21 Comments »

  1. I suspect simple repression has a lot to do with what St Clair is bemoaning . There are many instruments of control in our society which are more sophisticated than batons. Student debt, and the knowledge that any any arrest will go into a nationwide database are two. For instance, you can’t get a K-12 teaching job with any kind of misdemeanor, and they do check.

    Also, Obama gets a pass on a lot because he is Black. Something everyone knows but few say.

    Comment by purple — June 14, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

  2. If you think you can build anything worthwhile that ignores the question of the pernicious influence of Stalinism on the international labour movement whether directly or via the Stalinised post-war Trot sects who are far more likely to spout Gramsci than Trotsky or that you can ditch the experiences of the Left Opposition and the Fourth International built in the furnace of that struggle but sadly unable to resist the huge prestige gained by Stalinism after the Second World War or the quietism imposed by the US-led boom or the brutal murder of its founder then you are sadly deluded and not unrepentant at all.

    Comment by David Ellis — June 14, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

  3. Hi Louis,

    Nice post. I would like to add my observations of the ISO during the antiwar movement of 2003-whenever. In my opinion, based on about three years of serious day-to-day participation in the antiwar movement, the ISO came up short in every respect. In sum, they acted like a sect. That is, they made no particular contribution to the coalitions that sprang up, worked together, fell apart, and sprang up again. The ISO was always happy to endorse any action, but their actual contribution to the work of coalition-building was essentially zilch. They would sometimes send people to meetings to argue politics, but when it came time to do the ordinary work of building actions or meetings, they were absent. When the event itself came along the ISO played no role whatsoever in making the day proceed properly. They would march in formation and staff a table, and that was it. Unfortunately, I was forced to draw the conclusion — I did not want to draw it and was not happy to draw it — that they were useless in building actions.

    There was a lot going on in those days. In the early phase there was tremendous energy toward unification of antiwar forces. In the lead-up to February 15, 2003, the largest mobilization in human history ever for any reason, there were many forces fighting against the pressure for unity. The forces looking to the Communist Party and the Democratic Party absolutely hated the fact that they had to work with the ANSWER Coalition and both of them hated the fact that the Revolutionary Communist Party, of all people, had sniffed out that something serious was happening and had formed a wildly successful front group called Not in Our Name, which, in Seattle, held an early and wildly successful demonstration against the impending war that attracted at least 10,000 people, at which I led public fundraising that netted over $9000, an extraordinary sum indicating the visceral hatred for the prospect of war that had infused the people of Seattle generally. I mention numbers because 1) I know what they were and 2) because they tell you something about what ordinary people thought at the time and were willing to back financially Fundraising numbers, generally, do not lie.

    A situation ensued where a coalition of of United for Peace and Justice (the DP plus CP forces) were allied with RCP and ANSWER forces to build the Feb 15, 2003 demo. I had forced my way into the meetings building the demo based on my record as a crackerjack fundraiser, although in fact I did nothing special, nothing that you could not have learned from a cursory reading of Fred Halsted’s book on the antiwar movement in Vietnam. This was not a happy coalition. The main CP functionary, who was embedded in a peculiar Seattle formation called SNOW (Sound Non-Violent Opponents of War), did an excellent job of building the demo but his subtext was always to manouver to get rid of ANSWER and especially the RCP. With respect to the broadness of the coalition calling for and building the Feb 15 demo, his mantra was “never again”.

    I am going on about all this because these shenanigans illustrate the actual barriers to unity that exist even in the most unifying of circumstances. Despite all this bullshit, the antiwar pressure was so great at that moment that the Seattle demonstration on Feb 15 numbered 70,000 — by far the largest gathering in the history of Seattle. Fundraising was $35,000. No other gathering has even approached these numbers. The ISO was a mere footnote when they could have been leading forces and could have covered themselves with glory.

    Comment by davidbyrnemcdonaldiii — June 14, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

  4. Actually Louis I’ve never understood why you or the ISO are so keen on appearing at Counterpunch, a site that posts (in amongst the left wing stuff) material from anti-Semites, conspiracy nuts and sometimes supports “libertarians” (with some vile views on various issues) at election time. This isn’t a pop at you, its a genuine question. Whatever Counterpunch did in the past I think they’ve pissed to much in their own tent.
    On the recent ISO freak out, I couldn’t see anything wrong in the article they flipped out over, though I though Counterpunch’s promotion of the article was rather Benny Hillish, and therefore true to form

    Comment by Harry Monro — June 14, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

  5. When I was in the YPSL in 1962, there were the Realignment Tendency (work within the Democratic Party) which had a subgroup in Boulder that was budding neocons, the Labor Party Tendency, which had three subgroups (Landy, Barton, Shute) , a group that wavered between Realignment and Labor, and an anarcho-syndicalist tendency led by the late Tom Condit, which had an extremist subgroup in Texas that fancied themselves as 1937 Spanish revolutionaries and wore berets and (not a joke) sausage on a string around their neck from which they would cut off chunks with a clasp knife. Sectarian swamp extraordinaire.
    Still, the LPT ran the Student Peace Union, and the Realignment types ran the March on Washington.

    Comment by Peter Myers — June 14, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

  6. nice post. a couple of minor points:

    I suspect you meant to write 60′s or 70′s when you wrote “When I first encountered this theory (of state capitalism) in the early 1990s,…”

    Also, I don’t believe that Ernie Mazey became an apparatchnic of the UAW bureaucracy in Detroit. His major role was building the Detroit chapter of the ACLU (of which he was executive director) as a membership organization uniting those on the left who were for civil liberties and against anti communist reaction and racism.

    peter herreshoff

    Comment by Peter Herreshoff — June 14, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

  7. I see you trot out the Morris Stein quote for another go-around. Surprised you didn’t regale us (for the hundredth time) with the story about the SWP member who made fun of your petty-bourgeois pants. And where are the Cochranites now? As they say, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

    Comment by David Altman — June 14, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

  8. Given how little information this piece offers about the internal workings and culture of the ISO, wouldn’t a more apt title be “Outside the International Socialist Organization”?

    Comment by Kent — June 15, 2013 @ 12:13 am

  9. Jeff gave it that title. I might have picked something like “Where did the ISO come from? Where is it going?” Also, I was never a member of the ISO so I couldn’t write about its internal life the way I could about the SWP. But this might be useful:

    ISO: The Joy of Sects

    John Lacny

    A WIT once remarked that of all the Jesuits, the worst are the Protestant ones. I have come to the conclusion that this cogent observation has a counterpart when it comes to the world of the sectarian left: of all the Stalinists, the worst are the Trotskyites.

    And among these, there is the group that a member of which once proudly described to me as “the fastest-growing organization on the Trotskyist left”: the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Properly speaking, the ISO is not Trotskyist, since most such organizations saw progressive features in the USSR even during the Stalin era, while the ISO dismisses the entire post-Trotsky Soviet venture as “state capitalism”. But since the group vociferously claims the mantle of the exiled founder of the Red Army, it seems a little perverse to deny them the label they seek for themselves. On the surface, though, the ISO is not as objectionable as the three other main Trotskyite groupings in the United States: the Castro-worshipers of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP, publishers of The Militant), not to be confused with the ISO’s British “sister organization” of the same name; the Socialist Equality Party (SEP, publishers of the Internet-only International Workers Bulletin), which dismisses all trade unions as “reactionary”; and the certifiably lunatic Spartacist League (SL, publishers of Workers Vanguard), which still boasts of its support for Soviet military operations in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s. But anyone who has ever worked with the ISO – and, as a consequence, has been incessantly solicited to purchase a copy of its biweekly tabloid, Socialist Worker – knows that the ISO can hold its own with its factional rivals in terms of fanatical persistence.

    Before this author relates the story of his own involvement with the Trots-of-choice for more college students than all the other leading brands combined, let him give you one piece of advice: Kids, don’t try this at home. As a small-town high-school student, yours truly was a diligent reader of the left-wing press, both big and small, reliable and zany, thoughtful and dogmatic. As a result, he had honed his skills at being able to tell the real deal from the charlatans, and the committed from the merely cultish. Therefore, he knew what to expect from the Jehovah’s Leninists, and joined them only for the sake of expediency, with plans to get out as soon as possible. The inexperienced and the less wary may be in for an unpleasant surprise, so be forewarned.

    So why did I join an insular clique whose methods I found ineffective and often juvenile, and which I knew I would leave at the first opportunity? Even now, writing this little polemic, I feel nothing like the defectors who left the Communist Party or radicalism in general to write numerous self-serving mea culpas over the years. All of these – from the annoying Arthur Koestler of The God That Failed in the early Cold War days to the nauseating David Horowitz today- have whined and complained of being duped and misled. I, however, knew exactly what I was getting into, and had no illusions about joining a movement which would one day bring in the Workers’ Paradise. One cannot seriously be a defector from an organization in whose methods one never believed in the first place.

    So, once again, why? To be crudely frank, I had no other choice. The sad fact is that the ISO is the only game in town when it comes to many college campuses nowadays. Part of this phenomenon is a result of the group’s own strategy. At some point most college-based Trots, Maoists, and other left-wing nut-cults- especially after the disintegration of the once-vibrant Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1969 – made the decision to “industrialize”, i.e., have their members get jobs in factories in order to bring the Holy Word to the unwashed masses of the American working class. All of these attempts failed, and some of these groups (most notably the SWP of the USA) are still mired in this strategic dead-end. The ISO, however, never fell for this trap. Shortly after its founding in 1977 as the American branch of the “International Socialist Tendency” (the largest branch of which was and is the Socialist Workers Party of Britain), the ISO made the conscious decision to base itself on college campuses. Their thinking was that- especially during the conservative Reagan years – the working class was demoralized and not ripe for revolutionary agitation. Therefore, they would concentrate on “building” a committed corps of activists from college campuses, who would be in it for the long haul and ready to recruit workers when the next “upturn in struggle” occurred.

    As far as it went, the strategy worked. While other sects stagnated, the ISO grew, if only by ones and twos. Throughout the 1980s they picked up a welfare-rights or environmental activist here, a Central American solidarity or anti-apartheid protester there. They claimed to advocate that synthesis of all militant movements for social change that socialists at their best have always promoted- a prospect that was, is, and ought to be appealing to many activists. One should never doubt, though, that the majority of recruits drifted away from the group in those days for the same reason they drift away from it now: the discovery that the ISO’s priority is not the support of all militant movements for social change, but rather the use of progressive movements as recruiting grounds for the ISO (a process which the organization’s commissars see as ipso facto synonymous with “building the socialist alternative”). Then as now, the few who stayed in the group saw the high attrition rate not as a sign that the ISO itself might be doing something wrong, but as proof positive that not everybody was cut out to be part of the would-be Vanguard of the Revolution. The result was the creation of the hardened cadres the group was designed to create, and they were hardened still further by a siege mentality which was far from unjustified in those years of the Grenada invasion, Rambo, Ollie North, Bitburg, and Ketchup-as-Vegetable.

    But, as I have mentioned, the ISO’s own actions are only part of the explanation for its disproportionate visibility on campuses. The other part of the explanation is the sluggishness of most of the rest of the left. Too often, the majority of would-be activists are outmaneuvered by a tiny but persistent sect which is ready to latch on to any hint of a movement and make it into its own, and whose members are kept energized by an unceasing schedule of routinized – almost rhythmic – activity. This is the situation I encountered when I entered the University of Pittsburgh as a freshman in the fall of 1997.

    The maintenance workers at the University, represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 29, were engaged in a prolonged dispute with the administration. As of this writing, in fact, they are still without a contract, and have been so since December of 1995. It was obvious to me that this issue should have priority for the campus left, given its proximity. This went doubly so for me, as I was (and am) attending school on a scholarship from the University, and so had an obligation as a beneficiary of the system not to ignore the plight of those who were (and are) marginalized by that system.

    The local branch of the ISO, comprising some half-dozen members, was (rightly) pouring all of its energy into the issue. Among both students and faculty, no one else – literally no one – was doing anything. As a result, a situation quickly arose in which anyone who wanted to act in solidarity with the union had to work side-by-side with the ISO. The group made contacts with the union leadership, which was more than willing to accept help from anybody. I made the decision to join very early on. It seemed the rational thing to do at the time for several interrelated reasons: most importantly, the minute I showed interest, I was besieged with demands to join. These were fast acquiring the irritating quality of a broken record, and as long as the expedient would do no harm, the simple desire to do what was necessary to shut them up was good enough for me. Second, I had a hunch that being on “the inside” would put me in a better position to do what I could to reign in the damaging tendencies I was sure the Trots possessed. In hindsight, I can’t help but conclude that I was more or less correct in making the decision I did. Being a member, and an active one at that, allows you to see the logic behind the ISO’s sometimes bizarre behavior. Most have contact with the ISO only because of one of their vaunted weekly “public meetings” – you know, when they practically bathe their habitat in posters inviting the public to come hear the ISO’s take on a particular topic of social, political, or historic interest, and end up invariably offering the same solution: Join The ISO. But beyond these, there are the “cadre meetings,” which are members-only events where the apparatchiks see to it that the foot-soldiers are behaving in a manner conducive to “building” the organization. (Incidentally, while use of the verb “to build” is fairly common – especially on the left – in reference to parties and coalitions, the ISO has an inordinate fondness for the word. They build the ISO. They build Socialist Worker paper sales. They build “fightbacks”. They build meetings. They damn well build near everything. Their use of the idiom has reached a point where it is devoid of content and is little more than a rhetorical device; they might as well be building a “bridge to the twenty-first century.”) The meetings are also intended to consolidate members’ adherence to the theoretical line of the organization, which- despite the leadership’s insistence otherwise- is more or less written in stone. Because the ISO is so small, those who disagree with one aspect of the line or another are not technically unwelcome in the organization, but when members voice these disagreements, the response of the commissars is to say: “Well, we’ll have that argument.” And they do not lie; the argument follows shortly. The understanding, though, is that those disagreements that do exist will eventually be pounded out of the deviationist, and that said member will eventually recognize the error in his/her thinking.

    full: http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/sectariana/ISO.html

    Comment by louisproyect — June 15, 2013 @ 12:20 am

  10. Yes because the article from 1998 is soooo relevant. You will win no allies in the ISO with this hatchet job. In fact this will make it harder for us who want to help unite the left actually do it due to guilt by association. You and counterpunch are a net drain on the left as a whole.

    Comment by Alexander — June 15, 2013 @ 3:25 am

  11. About the Green Party.

    I was at the Socialism conference where Camejo and Hawkins spoke. Forrest Hill was there as well and tried to encourage ISO members to run as Greens and to get more involved in Green politics. You could tell that Camejo was frustrated, this was around 2005 long after the Cobb debacle. Hardly any ISO members showed at the meeting that Peter had called that evening at the convention hotel, it was largely attended by non-ISO people. A few ISOers had run for Green office in 2006, but they drifted off. On important votes, the ISO did not turn people out to locals and state parties to try and shift the Green Party leftward, something that could have been easily done in some states and in many cities, as the right dominated the Party by default. New York state, California, Illinois. and Washington comes to mind. I had come to the conclusion that the ISO wants to act in the interest of their own sect and not the movement. Like the poster above talks about the anti-war movement, they will show up,push their paper, sit in on a few meetings, and drift off. They are naive about true organizing.

    Comment by Justice — June 15, 2013 @ 5:13 am

  12. As a baby Marxist and new member of the ISO, I have yet to encounter the sectarianism and ideological conformity you describe here, Louis. You’ll understand if I don’t take your word for it, since that’s all you seem to offer.

    I’ve read that some Trotskyist organizations “function more or less as sects, creating their own political universe that involves a self-conception that they constitute the ‘revolutionary vanguard’ (or the politically correct nucleus around which a vanguard must form).” Is this something like what you’re talking about? In the same article, the author says “that it is a fatal mistake for a small group to see itself as the nucleus or the embryo of a mass revolutionary party.” This Paul Le Blanc guy must have the same beef with us that you do!

    There’s something funny about accusing a group of sectarianism in an uncharitable hatchet job rife with scare quotes. It’s heavy on trash talk and light on evidence, almost as though your real problem is that the ISO doesn’t conform to your ideology. “I have debated Cuba over the years with ISO’ers (they think it is a totalitarian dungeon) with an ever-increasing sense of futility. Even if what I say makes sense, they won’t buy it.” It’s like they don’t agree with you or something! I mean, not buying Things that Make Sense! Sectarianism!!

    Let’s talk about what is plausibly the real reason this appeared in CounterPunch. You say “The ISO’ers made a splash recently by going on a campaign to expose the editors of CounterPunch as a bunch of sexist frat boys in the ‘Animal House’ vein with Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank reprising Bluto and Otter. My intention here is not to reopen the brouhaha…” Later: “…Of course, there are people like Jeff St. Clair, Joshua Frank, and me who don’t mind thinking and speaking for ourselves.” A little passive aggression to go with the sectarian projection? And in the context of that brouhaha you totally weren’t reopening, do I detect a whiff of the “feminist thought police” line?

    Comment by Joel R — June 15, 2013 @ 7:05 am

  13. Does anyone have any experience with the Socialist Equality Party (ICFI)?

    Comment by Winston Griffiths — June 15, 2013 @ 7:14 am

  14. Joel R: Good point! Lou claims to abhor sectarianism, but his polemical method is straight out of the textbook of one of those ’30s groupuscles, the “Workers-Trotskyist Bolshevik League of Struggle (ML)” or whoever. Or as Lou put it in an email to me in response to my comment above, “You really are a first-class schmuck, aren’t you?” Good one, Lou! I’m devastated!

    Comment by David Altman — June 15, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

  15. I have no fucking idea what gave David Altman the bright idea that trolling my blog was a good thing to do. His first comment had all the political content of a noisemaker in the hands of a drunk on New Years Eve. What’s more puzzling is how unexpected it was. I have known him through email for over a decade and even was supposed to get together with him and his daughter when they were in NYC visiting Columbia University. We have shared a passion for African music and have had cordial exchanges in the entire time. I don’t appreciate it when people turn on me unexpectedly. Maybe he woke up in a shitty mood when he posted that garbage. There is also the possibility that he was unaware that he was being rude and provocative. I fortunately always understand when I am being a shit. David might lack that ability.

    I imagine that he has some ideas about the problems of sectarianism since he was in the SWP for a very long time. That would elevate the conversation. Right now, however, he seems bent on wallowing around in the mud. Btw, anybody who trolls this blog no matter how long I have known them or how cordial our relationship has been in the past is a schmuck. There are no exceptions to that rule.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 15, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

  16. While many times I may not agree with the Unrepentant, he does bring up some good points but I can not understand why he continues to suggest he learned about Marxist-Leninism in the SWP when clearly after WW2 if not way before they were neither Marxist nor Leninist but more like a Zinovievist grouping.That is not to say many of their members were not but as a party grouping and a tendency the degeneration with mistake after mistake about, not protecting comrade Trotsky in Mexico very well, dealing with other groups within the international like the RCP in England, not realizing the power of the Soviet Union after the world, Europe, China, Cuba zig zag after zig zag etc the list is endless.

    Comment by Cort Greene — June 15, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

  17. It’s nothing personal, Lou. Yours is just about the best left-wing blog out there. For instance, your recent post on Turkey was invaluable and your movie reviews are always worth reading. Your current feud with the ISO, though, apparently initiated when someone was rude to you at a conference, really is like something out of a mimeographed sectarian newsletter from the ’30s – a complete waste of time! Allah knows I have criticisms of the ISO, but I’ll give them their due. They’ve managed to build, under rather difficult conditions, an organization of about 1000 dedicated socialists. I can think of a couple of recent struggles, the Wisconsin uprising and the Chicago teachers’ strike, where they played a very admirable role indeed. And who are you? Just a guy with a computer terminal, or to paraphrase Stalin, “How many divisions does Proyect have?” Lacny’s little hatchet job was published 15 years ago, you have no way to verify its allegations, but never mind – it’s a slam on the ISO, so good enough for you to pass on without comment. The ISO comrades here are right to be unimpressed.

    You mention our joint history in the US SWP. You seem to think your time there was ten years wasted. Like you would have been doing anything otherwise that would have made any more difference in the world! I consider my term in the organization some of the best years of my life, and that includes the drudgery of trying to sell “The Militant” outside of a plant gate in 5-degree weather, or sitting through interminable branch meetings. The experience and skills I picked up there were invaluable, and I like to think that I made some small contribution to social progress. But Susan LaMont made fun of your pants! Barry Sheppard was rude to you at the national headquarters! That’s enough for you to dismiss the whole enterprise.

    Lastly, on the Cochranites. Younger people here are no doubt unfamiliar with this group, so I’ll recap. In the early 1950s there was a factional struggle in the US SWP between the supporters of Cochran, Clarke and Bartell and the central leadership of the party represented by James P. Cannon and Farrell Dobbs. According to the Cochranites, the SWP was a sectarian dead-end that was headed for oblivion unless it heeded their advice to create a loosy-goosy, all-inclusive swamp of reformists and revolutionaries. After their expulsion from the SWP and within 6 years the Cochranite organization had disappeared without a trace. The “sectarian, dead-end routinists” of the SWP not only held their own but were able to make some modest gains among the Stalinist milieu and recruited a section of the Schactmanite youth organization. In the coming years the SWP would rally to the cause of the Cuban Revolution and Malcolm X, lead the biggest demonstrations against the Vietnam war and build the biggest, most influential socialist youth organization since the 1940s at least. The fact that after 1978 the SWP under the leadership of Jack Barnes (a person who never misses an opportunity to piss on Jim Cannon’s grave) descended into sectarian irrelevance does not detract from the stand taken by the SWP leadership in 1953. If the ISO were a “Cochranite” organization of the kind you advocate it would soon disappear.

    Comment by David Altman — June 16, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

  18. This is the kind of post you should have written in the first place, Altman. While it is a hundred percent mistaken, it at least rises above the level of the bathroom stall scrawling character of your first post. I have no interest in answering it, however, since it evades the question I was addressing–namely what kind of revolutionary organization is needed today. You have no analysis of the SWP obviously. If that experience was a happy one for you, who would deny you such feelings? If you ever have an opportunity to read Lars Lih, please get back to me.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 16, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

  19. My “analysis” of the SWP is that, while not without its faults, until the late ’70s and its incorrect assessment of the period, the “turn to industry,” etc. it was basically on a correct course. I think the ISO comrades and others would do well to study that experience to learn the positives while avoiding our mistakes. You obviously disagree. So be it.

    Comment by David Altman — June 16, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

  20. Thanks for the scare quotes around the word analysis, a self-aware acknowledgment of your shortcomings.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 16, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

  21. David M: I don’t doubt your experience, but what you’re talking about is uneven. The ISO played a generally positive role on many campuses building anti-war coalitions, but that work was sometimes undermined by the necessity to do “party building” routines. At CUNY Hunter, we ended up destroying the first anti-war coalition in early 2003 by continually selling papers to people who were plainly uninterested or even hostile to socialism. We even alienated fellow non-ISO socialists to such an extent that they didn’t defend us when people got tired of working with us and split the group to go their own way, leaving us with no one to work with.

    Kent: Don’t worry, I’m working on something that will merit the title given to this piece.

    Justice: What you’re talking about goes beyond the usual “party building” stuff and touches on the ISO’s nearly anarchist approach to electoral politics and capitalist state power. In hindsight, I wish the entire Marxist left would have joined the Greens to give them a strong, red backbone and a better grassroots orientation [not that Marxists have either of these, but hypothetically] in the 1998-2008 era. Camejo is an inspiration to me personally and it’s one reason why I decided to start The North Star website as a way of trying to honor him and take his legacy forward.

    Joel: Your criticisms of this piece are mostly correct. There’s plenty of evidence if you want to really get into airing dirty ISO laundry; you just have to know where to look. Even if Proyect had gotten into how the ISO destroyed (not out of maliciousness, mind you) an anti-war group out at San Fran State in 2005 or in 2010 denied expelled members the right to appeal their expulsions in violation of the ISO’s own rules, this would simply be dismissed as an “attack on the ISO” rather than some type of principled criticism.

    Comment by Pham Binh — June 19, 2013 @ 8:38 pm


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